From Renee on March 13th, 2008 in General Remodel
Arrol Gellner has more than 20 years experience in residential, commercial, and industrial architecture. He works on everything from the upscale home to the industrial loft. He is the author of Red-Tile Style and other books. He writes the nationally-syndicated architecture column, Architext. Beyond earning his credentials, though, Arrol remains true to the substance of a home. I was fortunate enough to talk with him for CalFinder’s Spanish Revival series. His advice on remodeling speaks for itself:
“Do right by your house. Ignore the transitory foolishness of changing fashions, and never mind what kind of countertops your neighbors just installed. Instead, amplify the attributes that your house already has – its simplicity and its timelessness.”
When it comes to Spanish Colonial Revival style, Arrol says the older and more worn things get, the better.
“It’s a style that frees people from the tyranny of perfection. It shows us that flawless surfaces are not a requisite for comfort or beauty … That’s an exhilarating change from fussy styles that depend on everything being just so.”
Simplicity and lived-in splendor extend to the kitchen as well, but not at the sacrifice of functionality and contemporary comfort. While Arrol doesn’t recommend hi-tech in the Spanish Revival home, he does encourage finding a balance between the home’s original style and innovation.
“I think everyone is entitled to a functionally modern kitchen with all the bells and whistles that are de rigeur today, but at the same time it’s nice to do it in a way that still fits in the Spanish Revival vocabulary – simple finishes with just a touch of concentrated ornament, whether it be Mexican tile, carved wood, or whatever. Hi-tech is definitely not on the radar here, but neither are a lot of fussy details, high polish, or extravagant finishes.”
Perhaps the route of high polishes and extravagant finishes are where homeowners fall most at risk of losing their home’s intrinsic character. This is especially the case with windows and roofs, where Arrol attributes half the charm of the Spanish Revival house. He warns against red-tinted concrete, adobe-colored composition shingles, and sheet metal.
“Casement windows are really the only choice, since all the other types look out of place. And I prefer honest-to-God wood windows over wannabes like vinyl or even clad wood. Same goes for the roof – it has to be genuine clay tile, period. No red-tinted concrete tile, no adobe-colored composition shingles, no sheet metal made to look like tile. Even within the realm of clay roofing tiles, a true two-piece barrel tile roof looks much better than the so-called one-piece or “S” tile, which tries to cut corners on labor at the expense of the wonderful irregular texture you get from two-piece tile. Half the charm of a Spanish Revival house is in the roof, so this is the last place to settle for phony baloney.”
In a previous interview with architect Diane Wilk, we discussed the ways Spanish Revivals differ from region to region, adapting to their respective geographies. Arrol divides the differences in two waves: the simple models predating 1900, and the more elaborate detailing that followed.
“The first wave of Spanish-influenced design predates 1900, and was based on the Spanish Colonial mission architecture of California and the Southwest. These were very simple buildings modeled directly on the missions, and they had little of the elaborate detailing we associate with the Spanish Revival homes of the late teens, twenties, and early thirties. All that more elaborate stuff came after 1915, when Bertram Goodhue designed the California-Pacific Exposition in a full-on Spanish Renaissance (Churrigueresque) style. It was a huge hit, both with the public and among architects. That’s where we got the spiral columns, ornate ironwork, and other elaborate detail. This post-1915 style is more typical in California and Florida, while the Southwest tended to hang onto its preference for the simpler Spanish Colonial versions.
The good news for homeowners is that no matter what size Spanish Revival you have, the costs are bearable and the concept the same.
“In terms of design, the cardinal rule for both large and small is: Make it bold, but keep it simple … Compared to most other styles, and especially to Modernist work where perfect detailing is everything, building in the Spanish Revival style is relatively cheap. The materials are simple and inexpensive – wood, clay tile, plaster, maybe a bit of wrought iron. And unlike many other styles, a little bit of irregularity actually adds character. So the cost difference between a big Spanish Revival house and a small one is really just a matter of scale.”
More good news: the home’s natural good sense. Here’s Arrol’s take on the eco-friendly Spanish Revival, what he calls “the epitome of green living long before the term existed.”
“The style intrinsically uses materials that couldn’t be more natural or eco-friendly–wood, cement, clay, and wrought iron–and which also typically last the life of the building, which cuts down on waste from replacing things like shingles and flooring every decade or so. In planning terms, passive solar design is always something to strive for in these houses. The Spaniards and the Arabs before them have reflexively used it for centuries.”
Thanks for the interview, Arrol! For more wise words from Arrol, purchase his book on Spanish Revivals, Red-Tile Style. Then, when you’re ready to install a red-tile roof of your own, be sure to contact a certified roofing specialist, pre-screened by CalFinder.